The four-word sentence painted in yellow on a parked car on campus last Friday might sum up the feelings of thousands of graduates and parents: “No more tuition ARRRGH!”
That celebratory spirit was high and present at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium last week as nearly 3,400 students—accompanied by friends and families carrying signs and, of course, cameras—were awarded bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. As the newest Pirates to enter the world, they’re leaving the university different than how they found it.
Dr. James Bearden of the College of Business, carrying the university's mace, led students and faculty members onto the football field at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Four years ago, the Pirates hadn’t won two conference football championships. The East Carolina Heart Institute wasn’t open, and officials hadn’t broken ground on the future School of Dentistry. NFL player and alumnus Chris Johnson hadn’t become a powerhouse runner for the Tennessee Titans. Alumna and actress Sandra Bullock hadn’t won an Academy Award.
During his time at ECU, Brian Jernigan, who graduated with a BS degree in applied geography, said he’s learned never to give up.
“There was a point when stuff was getting tough and you know, you just have to fight through it and eventually you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Graduate Lauren Harris, who leaves ECU with a BA degree in psychology, described graduation day as bittersweet but exciting.
“It was actually probably better than what I thought it was going to be,” she said of her time at East Carolina. “I met a lot of great people too, so it wasn’t just about the education. It was about everything that kind of went along with it.”
UNC President Erskine Bowles, who delivered the ceremony’s keynote address, also knows a little something about saying goodbye. This is his last year as leader of the 17-campus UNC System—he intends to step down either at the end of the year or when his replacement is named. He has also been appointed co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform by President Barack Obama to help find ways to reduce the federal deficit.
After being introduced by Chancellor Steve Ballard, Bowles joked, “Graduates, you’ve just seen the first rule of politics: Always be introduced by someone you appointed to high office.”
UNC President Erskine Bowles offered five principles to help graduates in their adult lives.
During his light-hearted talk, Bowles offered five principles that had helped him in his life that he believed would do the same for the graduates. He told his audience not to promise more than they can deliver and that a person’s best self-advertising is the good work they accomplish.
“You have heard it a zillion times here in Greenville, but it can’t hurt to hear it once more: There absolutely is no substitute for quality,” he said. “If you’re going to do something, do it right.”
Bowles also encouraged the newest alumni to find ways to contribute to the community and to embrace creativity in the workplace.
“Encourage people to look for a better way to get things done,” he said. “I believe that principle goes hand in glove with surrounding yourself with really good people and listening to them. If you’re going to be successful, you can’t ever believe that the way you’re doing it today is as good as it can be done. There are always ways to do it better.”
Finally, the outgoing UNC president told the graduates to make sure that they save time to spend with their families.
“So when you look for a job, look for a family-friendly place to work, one that encourages you to spend time with your family. Then do it,” he said. “Spend time with your spouse. Spend time with your kids. Build up those memories. Believe me, it’s those memories and those relationships that will sustain you during the good times and the bad.”
Nearly 3,400 students were awarded degrees during the commencement ceremony at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium last week.
The ceremony included the presentation of several awards and a brief recognition of a student who died last week.
Five students were presented with the Robert L. Wright Alumni Leadership Award: Daniel Landon Allen, Brooke Jacinda Barton, Kyle Shane Bowen, Jason Lewis Morton, and Nina Fay Rose.
Dr. Thomas Raedeke of the Department of Exercise and Sports Science was awarded the UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. Clarice C. Goodyear, a member of the UNC Board of Governors, described Raedeke as a passionate and caring teacher who encouraged his students to not only ask “What?” but also, “So what?”
An honorary doctor of letters degree was awarded to Dorothy Spruill Redford, an author and lecturer who spent a decade researching her connection to her ancestors who worked as slaves at the Somerset Place plantation—now a North Carolina State Historic Site in Creswell. Redford is the author of Somerset Homecoming: Recovering a Lost Heritage and Generations of Somerset Place: From Slavery to Freedom, and she lectures on African-American genealogy, antebellum history, and the impact of slavery. She also managed the plantation from 1988 to 2008.
Dr. Taffye Benson Clayton, associate provost for equity, diversity, and community relations, honored Terry Paul, an ECU student who died of a seizure last week. Clayton used the opportunity to encourage the graduates to think about what they’ll do with their futures and their degrees, both of which hold transformative power, she said.
“With it, you can create new realities,” she said. “What will be the power of your degree? The answer, graduates, is in your hands.”